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GUEST COLUMN: Opening the door to fresh starts

Fresh starts. We all need them, and every time I throw away an old calendar and hang up a new one, I feel invigorated, somehow more alive than I did seconds before.

It’s like putting grids of opportunity and potential on display and then watching them unfold in slow motion. Seeing a brand new calendar is a visual pep talk for optimists like me.

But while I’m mostly an optimist, there is still a realist that dwells within my heart, one who knows that life can be tough and sometimes disappointing. While the optimist in me sings show tunes and hymns in the shower, the realist visits hospitals and helps people cope with situations that throw lives into chaos. The realist in me knows that not every fresh start is a desired one or caused by happy circumstances.

I mentor a young boy each week to encourage him and work on his reading skills. After he reads aloud for a bit, we draw pictures and play board games. One of our favorites is Chutes and Ladders, a game that I don’t remember playing as a child. I learned pretty quickly, though, that landing at the bottom of a ladder was good and stopping at the top of a chute could be catastrophic.

There’s nothing like being poised for victory only to have it ripped from you by a lousy spin of the wheel. More than once, I was sent from the threshold of victory to the bowels of the board. There was no rhyme or reason, just bad luck.

And just as bizarre was the time I won in only a few turns, hitting every lucky break along the way, zooming up the ladders like a squirrel climbing a freshly filled birdfeeder. I could not be stopped. I was invincible — until the next game, when I was reacquainted with my old friend, humility.

The setbacks are disappointing, even when it is only a game. If only I could plan ahead or learn skills that would help. But whether I win or lose, my advice to my young friend is always the same: Never give up. We don’t know what the next spin of the wheel will bring. We may vault to the top or plunge to the bottom, but we can’t quit, because there’s always a spin that awaits us. There’s a fresh start that God longs for us to make. That’s not just my optimism on display, it’s my faith as well. I know that God is with us, no matter the circumstance.

The realist in me knows I’ll see critically ill people in the hospital this year. The optimist, however, will pray for healing in whatever form God sees fit to bestow it and will sing in the car on the way home from the hospital.

I worship a God who has seen me through many fresh starts. I pray that God’s grace gives you a desirable fresh start this year.

The Rev. Valerie Loner is the pastor at Rush Chapel United Methodist Church.